|EB First Edition from Wikipedia Commons|
A story in the New York Times today, Britannica is Reduced to a Click” reported that The Encyclopaedia Britannica, one of the “grand dames” of the library reference shelf was going completely digital. After 244 years the publisher would stop printing the 129 pound, 32 volume set. The print EB was a victim of both technology and Wikipedia, the “crowd sourced” upstart which boasts 4 million English language articles.
The EB was no doubt, my trusted ally in completing dozens of long forgotten homework projects, but it was also the source of my first encounter with the fallibility of reference books. In the mid 1960’s I went to a friend’s house to witness the unpacking of the family’s personal set of Encyclopaedia Britannica. I selected the volume containing the only topic about which I considered myself a true expert… “The Beatles.” I found the right page and to my horror confronted a reference to the “Fab Four” as The Beetles! This no doubt explains my continuing professional recommendation that researchers perform fact checking, by consulting multiple sources.